HL Deb 06 April 1978 vol 390 cc236-40

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would consider amending the Rent Act 1977 in order to make more rented accommodation available to the general public.


My Lords, the Government agree that the problems with privately rented housing need careful examination, which is why we are currently reviewing the Rent Acts, and a consultation document was issued last year. The availability of rented accommodation does, however, depend on many factors as well as rent legislation.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer, but I should like to ask when the Government are going to get rid of controlled tenancies as opposed to regulated tenancies and, following from that, whether it is not a fact that, from the estimates of the Department of the Environment and from construction statistics, it is possible to say that 300,000 families were deprived of furnished accommodation as a result of the 1974 Act and, in further emphasis, that, as a result of the 1974 Act, the advertising for rented accommodation in the Evening Standard has fallen by 75 per cent., with the figure dropping to only 25 per cent. up to the time of asking this Question? What are the Government going to do about it?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, that was one load of a supplementary! The noble Lord seemed to imply that furnished accommodation more or less vanished from the market after the Rent Act of 1974. The answer to that is, "no". A report on some of the effects of the Rent Act was published last November. It was carried out by the Middlesex Polytechnic and showed that many landlords continued to advertise furnished accommodation and, comparing a sample of newspapers two years before the Act with a strictly comparable sample two years after the Act, the fall in the number of advertisements was from some 32,000 to 27,000, which is less than 20 per cent. I would add that the noble Lord has not taken into account the complete change in living patterns and the fact that furnished rented accommodation has been declining since the end of the First World War.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether the Government realise that the lack of rented accommodation, particularly in great centres like London, means that there is increased demand to purchase houses which, in view of the shortage of houses for sale, increases the price, and that the only way of ensuring a reduction in the price of houses for sale is in fact to make available more rented accommodation? Will the Government hear that in mind when they review the present regulations?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, with great respect, I do not accept that line of argument. It is perfectly true that the amount of rented accommodation has declined. The demand for it has declined because there has been an increase in homeownership, but I do not think that the people who want furnished accommodation are the same people who want, or can afford to buy, their own homes. They are two different things, but there is an increase and the Government have given great help to first-time home purchasers, which is exactly what people want.

As I said in my original Answer, we are aware of these problems, but the results of the consultation paper show such tremendous disagreements arising from all sorts of factors, organisations and bodies that it is quite impossible to come forward with conclusions until one is able to sort out this difficult situation and strike a balance.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether, when she is considering this matter, she will take into account what is happening in a very serious way today owing to the fact that, instead of protected tenancies, regulated tenancies are being heavily abused, making it impossible for those who are supposed to be protected in their tenancies by the Rent Acts—and I am speaking about a somewhat higher stratum of rentals—to be protected because there is at present a rampant increase in the price of properties, with people in districts such as Westminster and Kensingston who have had their houses for 20 or 30 years now being charged 400 or 500 per cent. more in respect of their rents? Will she take that into consideration when again considering the Rent Acts?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I will certainly take it into consideration. My noble friend has put his finger on one of the trouble spots and one of the tremendous difficulties of this whole problem; namely, how to give security to tenants and protect them from steeply rising rents and at the same time allow flexibility for landlords.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, in her opening remarks, the noble Baroness said that the Government were reviewing the Rent Act, no doubt following upon their published Green Paper. Can she say when we may expect to have the result of that review and whether it will include a number of constructive suggestions about amending the Rent Act 1974 which would bring more rented accommodation back on to the market, particularly to help young people, both single and married, who are not eligible for a council house and who cannot afford to buy a house?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, unfortunately, I cannot give a date when the Government will be able to announce their conclusions about this. It is because we arc trying to work this out in the most equitable way and, as I said before, to balance the various interests that have put forward their views—and extremely strong views—that there has been this delay.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, although one of the responsibilities and functions of the Government is to keep prices down, nevertheless tenants of regulated tenancies are being asked to pay anything from 60 to 100 per cent. more by way of rent, with the assistance of so-called impartial rent officers and rent tribunals? Is it not about time for that question to be looked into very seriously if the Government really mean to keep prices down?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, this is certainly one of the questions the Government are looking into now, and in fact one of my colleagues is particularly engaged on this point.


My Lords, could the noble Baroness assure us that the Government do not rule out the possibility of fixed term leases after which possession could be regained, both for furnished and unfurnished accommodation, as was indeed suggested in this House in our 1974 debate?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, that is a very large question. I can only answer it by saying that we are opposed to any measure which would in practice mean that new lettings to private tenants would carry with them no security of tenure. It is the security of tenure that is so important. The reduction in the number of evictions since the Rent Act is very great indeed.


My Lords, while I understand that the noble Baroness cannot give my noble friend any assurance about the date of conclusion of the review, may I ask whether she can give the House an assurance that in coming to their conclusions the Government will take account of the needs of new potential tenants, particularly young people, who have no accommodation of any kind at the moment? While security of tenure for those who have accommodation is of course important, it does need to be balanced against the needs of those who have nothing at all.

Baroness BIRK

Yes, my Lords, that is what I have said two or three times. We are trying to get the right balance.

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